Until very recently, the business world has considered emotion to be something to be left outside of work. Unless you were trying to pluck someone’s heartstrings to accomplish a business goal (think marketers and sales professionals trying to hit a pain point or induce a sense of “gotta have it” urgency), you were expected to put your emotions away from 9 to 5, thank you very much.

But people aren’t machines. Emotions are intertwined with who we are as a species, and they drive every aspect of our behavior.

Think about a project you’ve worked on recently that you loved. You felt confident in your skills, you could see how it would help move your company forward, and you enjoyed the team you worked with. You kept the project moving along and made sure bottlenecks were resolved quickly so everything could wrap up on schedule.

Your emotions about the project, the people and even yourself were positive. Those emotions inspired your actions – and produced great results.

Now think back to a project that you didn’t feel so great about. Maybe you didn’t understand how it aligned with your organization’s goals. Maybe you didn’t believe it would work or that you were the right person for the project. Maybe you disliked some of the people on your team. Whatever it was, your emotions about the project were decidedly negative…

And your results reflected it.

  • Maybe you procrastinated on your contributions or on responding to requests from team members.
  • Maybe you withheld good ideas or were overly harsh in your criticism.
  • Maybe you bickered with your team members
  • or you let the project die a slow death.

Once again, your emotions drove your behavior… just like they are driving the behavior of every single person in your organization.

Most people are unaware of how their emotions influence their behavior – and even less aware that they have a choice in how they behave. Rather than choosing a response, they react blindly – and then the people around them react to their reactions. It becomes a chain reaction of typically negative behaviors. The resulting conflict and drama hamper productivity, prevent your team from achieving its goals, and create a toxic culture.

So what’s a CEO or business leader to do?

Simple: Learn to lead with emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence boils down to the realization that “I have emotions – and so do you.”

Once you recognize your emotions, you get to choose how you manage them. Contemplate how you can show up more powerfully as you decide, set the tone and understand:

  1. Decide: Emotionally intelligent leaders have the ability to deliberately and strategically choose how they manage their emotions. Instead of indulging in an angry outburst, for example, you might instead notice that you were angry and get curious as to why. You might stop yourself in the middle of an angry outburst and apologize for your reaction. Or you might simply admit, “Hey, I’m feeling angry so let’s take a little time out.”
  2. Tone: As the leader, you set the tone for your team – and perhaps for your entire organization. When you’re able to acknowledge your emotions and choose your reactions, you lead with authenticity, which inspires those around you to be more authentic, too. You also model the type of emotionally intelligent behavior that you want to see in your organization. This creates space that feels safer and more secure for your team to show up authentically.
  3. Understand: We all have emotions. But we have varying levels of emotional intelligence. Some people are able to easily manage their emotions, understand the emotional states of others and then respond accordingly. Others have to work harder to get in touch with their emotions and choose their responses after a lifetime of trying to ignore and stuff down how they feel.

The good news is that emotional intelligence is something you can cultivate. It just takes awareness and practice.


Mary Pat Knight, CEO of Leaders Inspired, is a Transformation Strategist, Speaker, Facilitator, and Coach committed to leadership and emotional intelligence in the workplace. She is known for cutting through corporate drama to create laser focus for powerful business and personal results for her clients. 

I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook 

Ever Wondered About your own Leadership EQ? Take the Quiz… 

Curious about your Emotional Intelligence skills, I’ve created a quiz for you. Don’t worry, no outside corporation will have your information. It’s just me and I’m a stickler for privacy. Click Here to go to the Do You Lead With Emotional Intelligence Quiz. A few short questions and you will receive your results and a little extra coaching by email to help elevate from where you are now.